Creating Safe and Inclusive Schools for Gender-Independent Children: an Interview with Dr. Carys Massarella

Dr. Carys Massarella

and the school?

CM: I think first and foremost that getting across the idea that gender-independent children exist and that they are normal kids is important. They shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed, embar­rassed, or afraid to express themselves. There should be books and curriculum that reflect the full experience of gender in our children, includ­ing children’s books such as  10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert. Classrooms should be positive spaces for children that reflect the diversity of experience. Also, if there is a gender-independent child in a particular school, then maybe that school would have to consider how it manages bathroom policy and which bathroom these kids should use. In terms of advocacy, all teachers should advocate for all students regardless of their back­ground. We need to have inclusive policies that are reflective of the communities we live in. But I think the key is really to reassure school boards and parents that these are normal kids who just need space to express themselves. Many will not end up being transgender and will confirm their assigned biological gender as they get older, but some will be transgender and that’s okay too. It’s just a question of being fair and supportive.

How do socioeconomic factors that intersect with gender identity affect these children’s experiences in school?

CM: Gender-independent children come from all socioeconomic backgrounds. However, as with many predictors, we know that children who come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have better health outcomes, as their parents are likely better able to advocate for them as compared to some other groups. Parents likely have access to resources, particularly the support of private therapists, which are generally cost-prohibitive.

What similarities and differences do you see between doing work in schools on homophobia and doing work on transphobia?

CM: With respect to the work with homophobia, the two issues are clearly linked. Again, we know that the LGBTQ community has a much higher rate of suicide than non-LGBTQ communities. This is not because of anything inherently pathological about these identities, but is due to the lack of acceptance that leads to shame, anxiety, depression, lack of self-worth, and, in some cases, to the tragic consequence of suicide. Acceptance of diversity is key. Education is key. This should be promoted across school boards, both Catholic and public. The difference is that transgender kids can be gay, queer, straight, or bi, unlike lesbian and gay kids. But in essence the fight is the same and the issues are similar.

What kind of advice would you have for teachers when they are talking to parents about their gender-independent child?

CM: For teachers, I would first say that they should reassure parents that their child is normal and that they have done nothing wrong. This is not an illness or disease


young students standing in school hallway laughing

On June 14 2013, City View Alternative Senior School in Toronto's West End became the first grade 7 and 8 school in North America to proactively establish a multi stall all-gender washroom. This is the story of our six month journey.

Author reading to students

What do you do when you can’t find a resource to start important conversations in your classroom? You create one, of course. Peel teacher Greg Maxton (who writes under his married name, Kentris) had become increasingly frustrated with the persistent, intentional and casual homophobia that he saw in his middle school teaching environment.